Buchanan to testify in attorney scandal today

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Mary Beth Buchanan, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, is meeting this morning with investigators in Washington to discuss what she knows about the firings of eight federal prosecutors across the nation last year.

Ms. Buchanan, who served as director of the U.S. Justice Department's Executive Office for United States Attorneys from June 2004 to June 2005, will be questioned by Republican and Democratic investigators from both the House and Senate.

A staff member for the House Judiciary Committee, where the interview will occur, said it is scheduled for the entire day. Whether it lasts that long, the staff person said, depends on where the line of questioning takes her interrogators.

Ms. Buchanan's name entered the controversy over the U.S. attorney firings in April, when D. Kyle Sampson, former chief of staff for U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, said she was among people who were consulted about which prosecutors should be asked to resign.

The scandal over the firings has continued for months, with critics alleging that the prosecutors were let go for purely political reasons.

In May, the Justice Department's former White House liaison, Monica Goodling, testified to the House committee that she improperly considered political background in vetting job candidates for career prosecutor positions within the department. Using such screening for non-political appointees would be illegal, and Ms. Goodling initially invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when she was summoned to testify. The House committee eventually voted to grant her immunity in return for her testimony.

During her questioning May 23, Ms. Goodling referred to Ms. Buchanan's role in the executive office. She told the committee that Ms. Buchanan had hired her, and that she knew that Mr. Sampson had spoken with Ms. Buchanan about the firings.

According to Justice's Web site, one of the major functions of the executive office is "evaluating the performance of the Offices of U.S. Attorneys, making appropriate reports and taking corrective action where necessary." In addition, the executive office also provides support to deputy attorneys general about U.S. attorney appointments.

When she goes into the interview today, Ms. Buchanan will be represented by her own attorney, Roscoe C. Howard Jr. A former U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., Mr. Howard is expected to offer a written statement on Ms. Buchanan's behalf at the conclusion of the interview. He has previously said she is cooperating in the investigation.

Ms. Buchanan was initially scheduled to go before congressional investigators June 7, but that appearance was postponed. Today's interview will be conducted privately, though a transcript of it could be published if it is quoted during any committee hearings.

Paula Reed Ward can be reached at pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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